LONDON (Reuters) - West Midlands Police apologised on Thursday and agreed to pay broadcaster Channel 4 substantial damages for falsely claiming an undercover documentary about Britain’s mosques had been distorted.
The Channel 4 Dispatches programme “Undercover Mosque”, aired in January 2007, featured secret recordings from Saudi-trained preachers spreading an “ideology of bigotry and hatred”, London’s High Court heard.
Last August, West Midlands Police, along with the Crown Prosecution Service, issued a statement accusing the show’s producers of heavily editing the footage which angered many of Britain’s 1.7 million Muslims.
The programme had “completely distorted” what the speakers at the mosques had been saying, they alleged.
It followed an investigation which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone featured even though some of the speeches might be considered “offensive”.
Officers passed the matter to media regulator Ofcom, saying the CPS had even been asked to consider charges against the documentary makers for inciting racial hatred. However Ofcom cleared the programme of any wrongdoing.
“Regrettably, despite this public vindication of the programme makers, the West Midlands Police and the CPS did not remove the press release from their respective websites,” said Matthew Nicklin, lawyer for the programme makers.
“Neither did they of their own accord publish any retraction of the allegations,” he told London’s High Court.
This prompted those responsible for the show, including Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Kevin Sutcliffe, to sue the police and the CPS for libel.
“As an indication of the sincerity of this apology and as recognition of the seriousness of allegations of ‘fakery’ for professional journalists and broadcasters, both defendants have agreed to pay substantial damages to the claimants and to pay their legal costs,” Nicklin said.
The damages would be paid to the Rory Peck Trust, a charity that supports freelance journalists, he added.
“We now accept that we were wrong to make these allegations,” West Midlands Police said in a statement.
“We now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity.”
Reporting by Michael Holden